I have known about my family history since childhood, but only segments of it. My parents, Lothar and Irma Gärtner (nee Badrian) migrated to Australia from Nazi Germany in 1938, the only passengers on a German cargo boat out of Hamburg. My father recorded in his scrapbook that they were treated decently during the voyage by the captain and crew. Soon after arriving in Melbourne, they anglicised their surname to Gardner. It’s the name on my birth certificate. I was born the following year. World War II had just begun. My parents were among the fortunate minority of European Jews to escape.
My father brought with him a Stammbaum, a pictorial representation of the Gärtner family tree. Now hanging on my dining-room wall, it stimulated my interest as a young adult in my family history, but it was too small and densely packed with information to allow me to add new names. My father died in 1961. After my wife (Helen) and I were married in 1963, I bought an artist’s sketch book and began to expand my family tree by adding my mother’s and my wife’s families, together with new information about my father’s side. Decades later, the tree was transferred to our computer and the Web.
Helen became interested in genealogy years before I did. A friend’s father had found on the Internet that he had two half-brothers. Helen then searched JewishGen’s Family Finder for her parents’ and grandparents’ surnames and discovered a distant cousin in the U.S. who told Helen that she had three generations of cousins living in Russia. (We met most of them there, years later.)
My interest developed more recently. I didn’t suddenly sit down one day and think, “Now, I really must investigate my ancestry.” Rather, it followed three unexpected events:
- Helen’s U.S. cousin, after a correspondence gap of several years, emailed that he was no longer in the States. He had divorced his wife, re-married, moved to Paris and fathered a daughter. Helen opened her computer to enter the new information on our Ancestry tree.
- Then a message appeared via Ancestry, from Werner Hirsch, a distant American cousin. He was descended from one of my paternal grandfather’s siblings. I had not known of his existence. Werner had left Germany as a child, with his parents, before the war. He was a keen genealogist who was able to push back my Gärtner ancestry by another generation and tell me about relatives in the U.S. and South America.
- Another message soon followed, this time from a German lady named Elke Kehrmann. Another newfound relative? (As it turned out, no.) Elke noticed on my family tree that a man surnamed Kehrmann had married a Hedy Kronheimer, a distant relative on my father’s side. What did I know about him? Actually, not much: his first name was Ernst.
These events unleashed my current passion for genealogy and I learned much. I learned that there is an invisible college of altruistic people around the world who make extraordinary efforts to be helpful. Although my pre-retirement career as an educational researcher had given me a useful skill set, genealogy provided an opportunity to learn some new ways of thinking. I gradually changed from an amateur, a passive recipient, into someone who could question doubtful data and seek out information for myself.
I learned, too, that genealogy is not just about recording family history. Although the Nazis and their collaborators murdered a large proportion of our people, a minority managed to scatter to the ends of the earth, either by escaping in time or by miraculously surviving in Europe. Genealogical findings can sometimes unite scattered families. Helen and I have both experienced the joy of meeting relatives for the first time, from several different parts of the world (including a third cousin living in my own city). One truly astonishing example of such an outcome serves as the climax and finale to this article.
I might have expected that my short reply to her query would have ended our correspondence. It didn’t. Elke now did something extraordinary. She noticed my mother’s maiden name on my family tree. Without any prompting, she started sending me information about the Badrians of Oberschlesien. She still does.
Elke was the first member of my invisible college. Others followed. Roger Lustig, an expert from Princeton, New Jersey, told me about the earliest Badrians of Upper Silesia. After I contacted Claire Gamston, a Badrian descendant in England who sought information about her father’s ancestry, she put me in touch with a remarkable young Dutch woman, Frieda Voorhorst, who provided information of major importance about a branch of my family that fled Germany for the Netherlands before the war. Frieda also visited Bytom in Poland and discovered crucial information about my great-grandmother. I discovered an apparently trivial error in a record on the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland website and sent in a correction. This little episode of academic pedantry led to correspondence with Stephen Falk, who sent me selected pages from the Pless Land Registry of 1817-47 about my Badrian ancestors’ families along with an Excel file of the entire Pless data compiled by Roger Lustig.
In mid-2015, Helen and I travelled to Europe. As well as getting together with newfound relatives, another special pleasure of that trip was meeting some of my helpers, Elke in Dresden and Frieda in Amsterdam. Claire (with her husband and father) came from England especially to join us in Amsterdam. Although emailing is good, face-to-face is special.
My Mother’s Family
I can now trace my mother’s family back to the first man (whom I call Menachem-Mendel) to adopt the Badrian surname, in the late 1700s. This article focuses on the first three Badrian generations, but will conclude with a story about what happened to just one branch in modern times.
Prior knowledge. My mother was born in Beuthen, Germany in 1907. Centuries earlier, called Bitom, it belonged to the Kingdom of Poland. Ruled in turn by various dukes, kings and emperors, it later became part of Prussia, and then Germany. After World War II, Silesia was returned to Poland, and Beuthen is now Bytom, a reversion to its original name.
Long before my genealogical research began, I knew that Irma’s parents were Louis Badrian and Emma (nee Freund). Louis was born on September 2, 1871, and was a highly skilled specialist shoemaker who crafted individually designed footwear for people with crippled or deformed feet. He suffered from diabetes in the days before insulin and died, aged only 45, on February 1, 1917. Emma was born in 1873; her birthplace was not entered in my family tree, but I later found that it was Königshütte (now Chorzow), near Kattowitz. She perished in the Holocaust, in Thereseinstadt according to the sketch-book entry. (Not correct: the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum informed me that the Gestapo had put her on a train heading for Auschwitz.)
Louis and Emma’s first child was a stillborn daughter. Irma was one of six living children. Their birthplace was not recorded in my sketch-book, but I assumed (correctly) that it was Beuthen. Oldest son Walter (b. 1900) began to train as an apprentice shoemaker in his father’s workshop, but the training ceased due to his father’s early death. He then worked in a shoe-store, at first in Beuthen and then Berlin, where he married, had a son, lost his job during the Nazi period and died of cancer in 1941.
Second son Herbert (born 1903 in the sketch-book, but 1904 in German records) moved to Breslau and married. The couple and their little daughter were Holocaust victims. (In 2015, I visited the Fort IX concentration camp in Lithuania, where they were shot to death in November 1941.)
Third son Rudolf (born 1906) was the first to recognise the Nazi threat, and left for Palestine in 1933. He married and the couple had a son and a daughter, my Israeli first cousins. My uncle Reuven (his name in Israel) died in Haifa in 1985. Fourth son Felix (born 1910) is mentioned on the family tree as married and divorced, together with the fact of his death in a concentration camp. At first a slave labourer in an Auschwitz camp, he died in Buchenwald in 1945.
Louis’ death prevented Irma from receiving an advanced education. As a teenager, she worked in Beuthen as a sales clerk and moved to Berlin as a young woman to advance her career. Early in the Nazi period, she went to Karlsruhe to work in a Jewish-owned department store. In that town, she met and married my father. Lothar had an uncle in Melbourne, who was long-established, wealthy and willing to sponsor my parents’ entry to Australia. My mother, the longest-living of her siblings, died in Melbourne in 1992.
In 1939, my parents sponsored the immigration of the youngest sibling, Herta (born 1914). She stayed in Melbourne for a while and then moved to Sydney, where she married. It was her husband’s second marriage; they had no children. My aunt died in Sydney in 1984.
Also in 1939, Walter’s son, my other first cousin, now known as Laurie (born 1932), was placed on a kindertransport by his parents, whom he never saw again. A ship took him to England, where he was immediately transferred to another ship bound for Australia. Today, he is the father and grandfather of the only Australian descendants still carrying the Badrian surname.
The extended family. Irma’s aunt and uncle were neighbors in Beuthen. They are mentioned in my mother’s handwritten memoirs, compiled a few years before her death. Minna, unmarried, worked as a kindergarten teacher. In the sketch-book, Uncle Hermann is listed as married to Frieda (maiden name unrecorded). Their daughter Erna was married and divorced. The ex-husband’s surname was unknown. A blank box underneath Erna’s name represents my mother’s recollection that Erna had a child, name and gender unknown. Hermann and Frieda also had a son, Gerhardt. My mother knew that all four had died during the war, but there was a complete absence of any biographical data about this family, except for a note that Erna and Gerhardt both died (true) in Holland (only partly true).
My mother knew about her maternal ancestry. In her memoirs, she records childhood memories of her maternal grandfather, Hermann Freund, who died in 1910 when she was only three years old. But about her father Louis’ ancestry there was nothing. Who was my great-grandfather? My great-grandmother? My mother didn’t know. This is where the story of my Badrian research really begins.
Elke’s 150-List. I quickly learned something important. One may receive vital information, but not recognize it at the time, because other crucial information is missing. Elke sent me a list of 150 Badrians, individuals and family groups. It included a couple, Joseph and Handel Badrian (nee Freund) and three children, Hermann, Minna and Adolf. Joseph and Handel were my Badrian great-grandparents.
Only I didn’t know that at the time. How could I? No flashing neon lights announced, “Hey, Paul, here are your great-grandparents.” I was, naturally, looking for Louis’ parents and he wasn’t listed among Joseph and Handel’s children. There were two Louis Badrians in the 150-list, but their birthdates didn’t match my grandfather’s. Joseph and Handel lived in Ornontowitz. I had never heard of it (it’s a village in the Gleiwitz/Kattowitz region). Yes, there was a Hermann and a Minna. So what? These are common German forenames. And a son called Adolf. I’d never heard of him. Not on our family tree; mother never mentioned him. My feelings were mixed. I was deeply impressed by the willingness of a complete stranger to be so helpful, yet disappointed that the information wasn’t (apparently) relevant.
Ryan’s question. Sometimes help comes from completely unexpected sources. Nine-year-old Ryan is the youngest Badrian in Australia, the grandson of cousin Laurie, the kindertransport emigre. His teacher assigned the children a project to investigate the origins of their surname. Ryan’s request for information was relayed via his father and grandfather to me. I didn’t know. I knew that family-based surnames were adopted in Napoleonic times, and that Jews often chose names based on their town of origin, or occupation, or tacked sohn onto the name of their father. Badrian didn’t fit any of these categories. I couldn’t help—but Helen could. She had recently joined JewishGen’s Discussion Group, and posted the question on the web. Promptly, several people responded.
The most helpful answer came from Roger Lustig. He quoted Menk’s Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames. The name was derived from baldrian, the German name for valerian, a medicinal plant used to prepare sleeping medicine. Roger explained that family-based surnames were adopted in Upper Silesia around 1791, earlier than elsewhere. He told me that in 1812, the citizenship list for Silesia shows one Baldrian family in Sohrau (today, Zory) and one Badrian family in Baranowitz. Later, Baldrian tended to disappear.
The earliest person to adopt the Badrian surname, said Roger, was probably called Mendel. He believed that the men of the two families were brothers. Abraham was born in 1768, married in 1794, and moved from Baranowitz to Sohrau. Much later, Elke sent me the 1848 death record of Abraham in Sohrau, which gave his age at death as 75, implying a birth year of about 1773, but the age entry could be just an approximation. Joseph, the other brother, was in Baranowitz until 1817. Each brother had a son named Mendel. Based on the custom of naming a newborn son after a deceased grandfather, Roger inferred that this was the name of the original Badrian.
Fig. 1 Evidence of two Mendel Badrians, Pless Land Register, page 3
The Pless Land Registry covers the period from 1817 to 1847. The index page (Figure 1) is partly illegible (water damage?). Four Badrians are listed. No. 16, Joxxxx (presumably Joseph), 17, Menxxx (presumably Mendel, but could be Menachem), 24, Wolff and 26, Mendel. The distinctive numbers 17 and 26 indicate that these are two different Mendels.
Roger said that Generation 1 Mendel adopted the Badrian surname after 1791, along with his two sons. He added that the Mendel grandsons were born in 1803 and 1805, mentioned Abraham having a son named Michael in 1801, and suggested that Generation 1 Mendel died about 1802. While I endorse the general thrust of Roger’s argument, I subsequently obtained some additional evidence and would offer a slight variation.
I have never seen any document with Michael’s Hebrew name on it, nor any evidence that Abraham had more than one son. I have seen Michael’s 1822 marriage record giving his age and his father’s name, so I agree that he was born in 1801. Michael died “of colic” in 1833, aged 32. A Mendel, born in 1803, is listed in the Pless register as head of his own large family. This Mendel must be Joseph’s son, as many of this Mendel’s children were born after the death of Michael.
Joseph’s Mendel married Johanna (Hendel) Loewy in Pilgramsdorf in 1827 and the couple had a son named Samuel in 1828. Samuel married Amalie Brenner and the couple lived in Beuthen where he was in business as a grain dealer. He died in Beuthen and is buried in the “new” Jewish cemetery located at what is now called Piekarska Street. Frieda Voorhorst visited the cemetery in Bytom and photographed his gravestone. One side is written in Hebrew, the other in German. The Hebrew side refers to Samuel as the son of Reb Menachem.
The name Menachem is commonly paired with Mendel. Thus at birth, Joseph’s son was probably named Menachem-Mendel, but in everyday life, he just called himself Mendel. I, therefore, believe that the original Badrian was also called Menachem-Mendel, so that is the name I now use to refer my patriarchal ancestor.
If Michael were Abraham’s only child (my opinion, not Roger’s), then he too would have been named Menachem-Mendel at birth. I consider the idea that this Menachem-Mendel might have adopted the everyday name Michael entirely credible. If I am correct, the two Mendel grandsons were born in 1801 and 1803, and not in 1803 and 1805. This would indicate that Generation 1 Badrian died prior to Michael’s birth in 1801.
My grandfather. Roger suggested that I request information about my grandfather Louis from the Bytom archives. I located the email address on the Web, and wrote in Polish (using Microsoft Translate). From Anna Szwed in the Bytom office, I learned that at birth, my grandfather had been named Löbel. She also sent me an extract of his death certificate (Figure 2).
Fig. 2 Louis Badrian, extract of death record from Bytom (Beuthen)
I have a passable knowledge of German and I can read printed Gothic font, but am unfamiliar with Old German script. Some of my overseas contacts, however, provided help within hours. Louis had died, aged 45, in Beuthen O/S [Oberschlesien], had been born in Sohrau O/S, and was married to Emma.
Sohrau records are held in the Racibórz (formerly Ratibor) archives, administered by the Katowice office. I emailed the archives, and struck genealogical gold.
- I received a copy of Löbel’s birth record (Figure 3).
- The record was in Old German script, except for names, written by convention in Latin script. Roger interpreted the document. Löbel was the son of the inn-lessee of Sohrau, Josef Badrian and his wife Handel nee Freund. Roger also chipped in with some of his knowledge. Handel was the daughter of Itzig Freund and his wife Minna.
Fig. 3 Entry in the Sohrau records of the birth of Löbel Badrian (Katowice National Archives)
- Sohrau had my great-grandfather’s death certificate as well (Figure 4). He had died in Sohrau on July 2, 1896. Joseph (the more usual spelling) died aged 54, so he was born in late 1841 or early 1842. Again, Roger interpreted. A student, Ludwig Liban, nephew of the deceased, reported the death at the home of Miss Marie Badrian of the master furrier Joseph Badrian, son of Moses Badrian and wife Rebecca (nee Berliner). Joseph’s wife lived in Bielschowitz. (The “Miss Marie” is the only unmarried Marie Badrian that I know. The Pless Excel file shows that in 1838 Moses and Rebecca had a daughter named Marie. She would have been 58 at the time of Joseph’s death. Perhaps she cared for her brother in his final years, consistent with the idea that Joseph and Handel had separated.)
In a single burst, my Badrian great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents had been revealed.
Fig. 4 Death Certificate of Joseph Badrian (Katowice National Archives)
I could now link this new information with the 150-list, viewed several weeks earlier. Löbel was born in Sohrau. The parents then moved to Ornontowitz, where their remaining children were born and recorded in a different archive. I learned a simple principle, i.e., finding a record in an archive that a couple had three children does not mean that they had only three children. Seems obvious, but it’s easily overlooked.
Great-grandmother Handel (nee Freund). What happened to Handel after 1896? This question remained unanswered for almost two years. The research was complicated by the presence of several Handel Badrians in the records, including a few of similar age.
Frieda and Elke combined independently to answer the question. During her visit to the Bytom cemetery, Frieda looked unsuccessfully for Handel Badrian’s grave, but in the cemetery office she found a handwritten, alphabetically organized list of burials (Figure 5). It showed a Johanna Bad(?)an – presumably a record of a partly illegible gravestone–who died on November 15, 1903. I had already encountered the association of ‘Handel’ with‘Johanna’ (Mendel Badrian’s wife Johanna/Hendel Loewy) so this was possibly my great-grandmother/ (Or not. She might have been just another Handel Badrian.) Elke obtained from German archives the death certificate that provided the definitive answer (Figure 6).
Fig. 5 Death Record of Johanna Badrian in Bytom (Photo: Frieda Voorhorst)
Fig. 6 Death Certificate of my grandmother Johanna (Handel) Badrian
Johanna Badrian, the Beuthen Standesbeamte attests, died on November 15, 1903. She was born in Gostin, in Pless, the daughter of innkeeper Isaac Hirsch Freund and his wife Minna nee Politzer. Johanna was the widow of the businessman Joseph Badrian, and at the time of her death, was living at Dyngosstrasse 45 in Beuthen (the same street as her son Louis and family). Her daughter Minna Badrian from the same address witnessed the certificate. (My great-aunt Minna was obviously named after her maternal grandmother.)
Fig 7. Marriage records 1833-36 in the Raciborz archives (Katowice National Archives)
My great-great-grandparents. JRI-Poland’s website has the details of Moses and Rebecca’s marriage on February 28, 1835, although she is recorded there with her German name of Friederike. Elke sent me a copy of the original marriage record (Entry 31, Figure 7). It is the oldest official document relating to a Badrian ancestor that I have.
Extraordinary. Now I knew my great-great-great-grandfather’s name as well. Moses, I estimated, was born around 1810, so if there were only two Badrian families in this region at the time, Moses’ father Joseph was the son of Generation 1 Menachem-Mendel. My Badrian ancestry had been revealed. It runs Menachem-Mendel/ Joseph/ Moses/ Joseph/ Löbel(Louis)/ Irma/ Paul. I am a Generation 7 descendant.The JRI-P entry also has Moses’ father’s given name and place of abode: Joseph of Sassez. There is a question mark after the place name, but I know the usual spelling in German: Sussetz (today, Suszec).
One of the Pless pages (Figure 8) sent by Stephen Falk gave me my first information about the other members of my great-great-great-grandfather’s family. Joseph was born in 1771. (This is not an official contemporary birth record, merely an entry made by a civic official, decades later, when Joseph brought his family to Pless. As all the entries relating to the family are in identical handwriting, I infer that they were all written by one official at the same time, i.e., after the entry relating to the youngest child, Gabriel, born in 1821. (Recall that the register was begun only in 1817). At least half a century had elapsed between the birth of Joseph and the birth of Gabriel. The 1771 date is credible as it’s in the same time frame as the 1768 birth year of Joseph’s brother Abraham. The cross next to Joseph’s name indicates that he has died, and this must have occurred prior to 1847, when the register closed.
A 30-year gap exists between Generation 2 and the earliest Generation 3 offspring. If we use that figure and extrapolate it backwards, that gives me a rough estimate of 1740 as the birth year of Generation 1 Menachem-Mendel.
Joseph’s wife’s name, my earliest known female ancestor, is recorded as Leye. I feel confident that this is the way the Pless official heard and wrote the Hebrew name usually transliterated as Leah. According to the register, she was also born in 1771. I’m not stating that this is wrong but it is questionable. Gabriel’s birth year would mean that Leah was 50 years old at the time. Possible, but definitely doubtful.
Fig. 8 Joseph Badrian’s family (Pless Land Register).
Generation 3: my great-great-great-uncle Mendel. Five children of Joseph and Leah are listed in the register, but this does not mean that they had only five children. The register is simply a list of people living in the district during a particular time period. It is not a comprehensive record of all the members of a family unit. Mendel, born in 1803, is not included as a member of Joseph and Leah’s family. He was at least 18 years old when the register entries were made some time after 1821, and was no longer part of Joseph’s family unit. His marriage to Hendel Loewy (born 1807) and their first four children are recorded in the Sohrau archives. Later, as the Pless register attests, they return to Pless where their family grew. They had 12 children, of whom two died in infancy. If we were to establish a Badrian Fecundity Prize, this couple would win.
Joseph and Leah’s later children. The five children in the Pless list are Wolff (born 1810); Moses (born 1812), my great-great-grandfather; Güttel (born 1817, the only daughter); Jochem (born 1819) and Gabriel (born 1821).
My great-great-great-uncle Wolff. The name Wolff (or more commonly, Wolf) Badrian occurs several times in the records in various generations, often in conjunction with, or alternate to, the Hebrew name Ze’ev (which means wolf) and (in later generations) with the German name Wilhelm. The Pless data confirmed what I had believed for some time, that he was a sibling of my great-great-grandfather Moses.
The register has a separate listing for Wolff and his family. He married Rosel Wohlauer in 1830. The maiden name deserves a comment, as elsewhere in the register she is described as born in 1812, the daughter of Jacob Anspach and his wife, Feigel Wohlauer. In other words, Wohlauer is the maiden name of Rosel’s mother. Rosel, after bearing Wolff three children, died young, in 1837.
Wolff is mentioned again in the Pless registry. On September 28 (the year is illegible) he married a woman who at her birth on May 24, 1819, was called Friedel Schleyer (born 1819), the daughter of Moses and Therese Schleyer. This, however, is almost certainly a reference to Wolff’s third marriage, not his second. The evidence for this is a JRI-Poland listing of the marriage of a Joseph Badrian (born 1840) to Julianne (Handel) Tichauer on January 8, 1862. The bridegroom’s parents are recorded as Wolff Badrian and Rachel Loewy. Clearly, Wolff was not married to Friedel Schleyer in the early 1840s.
JRI-P lists Wolff as the father of a five-year-old boy who died in 1847; the mother is not named. (My guessing is that it was Rachel Loewy. Perhaps she died between 1842 and 1847.) This is followed by a list of six births, from 1849 to 1861 where the mother’s surname is Schleier or Schleyer, with the first name given as Marianna (three times), or Marie, or Friedericke, or Fradel Marianna, the last two entries being fairly consistent with the Pless record of Friedel while at the same time confirming that Marianna or Marie is her everyday German name.
If we were to institute a Badrian Marital Relations Prize, Wolff would win. As Shakespeare said, “And one man in his time playes many parts”. (‘Playes’ is not a typo, that’s how The Bard wrote it.) I have no marriage records, so how do I know that this is one man, and not three different Wolff Badrians? In short: there were only two Badrian families in the region at that time. Abraham’s son Michael died young, so he could not have been involved. There was another Wolf Badrian, the son of Wolff’s older brother Mendel, but he wasn’t born until 1835.
My great-great grandfather Moses., Based on the 1835 marriage document, I originally estimated Moses’ birth year at about 1810. Later, Elke visited the archives in Leipzig and obtained a copy of his 1878 death certificate. The deceased was 73 years old, i.e., born in 1805. Then I saw the Pless entry which is 1812. In the absence of any reliable birth record, I am inclined to accept 1812 as likely the most reliable.
My great-great-great-uncle Jochem. Jochem is probably the way the civic official in Pless chose to record the boy’s Hebrew name, Y’hoyachim. (It’s not an idiosyncratic error. Numerous Jochems appear in the Pless registry.) In later records, when the boy reaches adulthood, he married (Handel Eichner, born 1818) and his name was recorded as Joachim or Haimann or Heimann. The couple had seven children, a boy and four girls in Sussetz, the last two girls in Warschowitz. Their second daughter, Lehne (born 1849), possibly was named after grandmother Leah, while the first daughter, Rosa (born 1844) was not, implying that Leah died between 1844 and 1849.
Gabriel Badrian. The Pless page of Joseph’s family provides little information about the youngest sibling. He was born on May 2, 1821, and married Marie Schleier (born 17 January 1827) on February 10, 1847. In the previously mentioned Pless Excel file, the surname is spelled Schleyer, but there is no mention of a Marie, or any other female Schleyer with this birthdate. The marriage occurred at the start of the year in which the Pless register was closed, so there is nothing more about them there. Gabriel’s name does not show up again in the later years covered by the JRI-P website. Perhaps Gabriel died as a young man, and widow Marie became the third wife of Gabriel’s brother Wolff.
Jacob Badrian. This name appears frequently in the JRI-P files as the husband of an Emilie/Mirel Schleier. They had at least six, and possibly nine children. They named their first two children Joseph Heymann and Leah/Lene, which provides strong circumstantial evidence that Jacob is a late son of Generation 2 Joseph and Leah. If so, it implies that Joseph and Leah left the Pless district sometime after Gabriel’s birth.
Joseph’s death. I have not found any record of Generation 2 Joseph’s precise date of death, but the evidence suggests that he died between 1835 and 1840, based on the years in which several grandsons named Joseph were born. There’s also a JRI-P death record of an elderly Badrian, first name not cited who died in 1836. This cannot be Menachem-Mendel, who died before 1801, or Joseph’s brother Abraham, as we have his death record of 1848. It might be Joseph.
Unsolved puzzles. What happened to my great-uncle Adolf? That question remains unanswered, despite two years of research. At first, we thought we knew the answer. Elke had found information that Adolf Badrian was a soldier in World War I, had died, and was buried in Gleiwitz. Further research indicated that the soldier was a young lad, not my middle-aged great-uncle. Moreover, the soldier, although seriously injured, had not died (at least not soon afterwards), as he was still living in Gleiwitz in 1924. What happened to my great-aunt Minna in her later years also is an unsolved puzzle. I have been unable to find where or when she died.
Badrians in the Netherlands
Great-uncle Hermann and family. Frieda Voorhorst’s untiring efforts researching books, civic records and memorial websites provided me with accurate genealogical (and historical) information about my great-uncle Hermann Badrian and his family. Frieda located a Haymann Badrian on a Dutch Holocaust memorial website. His birthplace, Ornontowitz, and date of birth, October 3, 1875, clearly identified him as my mother’s uncle Hermann. This led to further information about his family. Hermann’s wife, also called Frieda, was born on June 28, 1876, in Hirschberg, a town in the alpine Riesengebirge region. Her maiden name was Herrnstadt. The couple married in Beuthen on August 31, 1902. (Frieda Voorhorst discovered this snippet of information in a Dutch archive, of all places.) Their two children were both born in Beuthen, daughter Erna on June 17, 1903 and son Gerhard on October 13,1905.
Frieda’s findings corrected an erroneous entry (October 13, 1906, in Breslau) in a Yad Vashem testimony that I had believed for years. The submitter undoubtedly was well-meaning, and should be commended as the only person to post a testimony about Gerhard, but she must not have known Gerhard well. Frieda found a document in the Amsterdam archives, in a police file. Someone had stolen Gerhard’s bicycle. He signed a statement that included his date of birth.
During World War I, Gerhard was sent as a child to the Netherlands, which was neutral in that war, and cared for by Jewish foster parents, Jaques and Rachel deVries (nee Brandon). Erna married an Austrian, Hans Kerpen in Beuthen in 1930, but the couple divorced in 1938. Hans had returned to his family in Austria, was arrested there, sent to Dachau, released, fled to France, captured there and sent to Auschwitz. His precise fate is unknown.
Hermann, Frieda and Erna were arrested by the Nazis in March 1943. The parents were interned briefly in the Westerbork transit camp and then deported to Sobibor where they were murdered.Erna worked in the Vught slave labor camp for three months, then was taken to Westerbork in June, immediately deported to Sobibor and murdered.
Gerhard went into hiding and joined the Verzet, the Dutch resistance. He was part of the PBC (Persoonsbewijzencentrale) group, which specialized in stealing, altering and forging identification papers and other documents, initially to help protect Jews in hiding, but later to assist Dutch men targeted to work as forced labourers in Germany. If that were all he did, it would have been impressive enough, but he also did something else that was extraordinary. The evidence is drawn from Dutch and German books and websites, a Dutch two-part radio program that included testimonies by Verzet survivors and even one Gestapo document gloating over its success in killing this leading German Jew terrorist. With his solid build, Aryan appearance (whatever that means) and perfect German, he would dress up as a Nazi officer, drive in a green Opel car with Wehrmacht number plates, and armed with the appropriate (fake) documents, march into a police station or hospital ward and order the release of a prisoner (a fellow member of the resistance) “to take him to headquarters for further questioning,” i.e., off to a safe house.
We know how this story ends. I have known about it ever since my Israeli cousin Arye Badrian gave me, in 1985, a copy of the photograph of the memorial plaque in Amsterdam at the place where Gerhard was shot to death in a carefully planned ambush on June 30, 1944. (Figure 9).
Fig. 9 Memorial plaque in Rubensstraat, Amsterdam (Photo: Arye Badrian)
(“Born as a German Jew and at this place on Friday, June 30, 1944,
was killed in action as a fighter for The Netherlands’ freedom.”)
I have written extensively about Hermann and his family in my annual family journal, and I am currently writing an account of Gerhard’s life story. (Frieda Voorhorst is writing one in Dutch.) He is my family hero, and he deserves an extended literary treatment. However, the long version is a work of biography and wartime history, not genealogy.
Horst Kerpen. The research did, however, generate one truly remarkable genealogical finding. I mentioned above that my mother’s family tree included a blank box underneath her cousin Erna’s name, representing a child of unknown name and gender (and, obviously, unknown fate). The most rational expectation for a Jewish child born in the 1930s whose grandparents, mother, divorced father and uncle all perished during the Holocaust would be that the child would not have survived either.
That awful but perfectly reasonable expectation was, miraculously, wrong. The starting point for this investigation was a brief reference in a Dutch memoir, written by a surviving resistance member, which referred to the nephew (still nameless) of Gerhard Badrian. It took some months of patient work in 2014, much of it by Frieda Voorhorst, some of it by me, to find out who he was and what had happened to him.
The genealogical facts can be written succinctly. My second cousin’s name was Horst Kerpen. (He called himself by his father’s name, Hans, in the Netherlands. The name Horst is almost exclusively German, while Hans is popular in numerous European countries, including the Netherlands.) Born in Beuthen in 1930, he was placed on a kindertransport from a Jewish orphanage in Berlin and arrived in the Netherlands in 1939. His childhood was unimaginably disruptive. He lived for brief periods in various orphanages, his grandparents’ home, other homes and (later) in safe houses. He was captured twice by the Nazis and imprisoned at Westerbork transit camp, from which his escapes were organized. Despite this trauma, he was a child survivor. After the war, he resided in a Jewish orphanage–where he celebrated his bar mitzvah at the age of 15–until he was old enough to leave. After working for a few years in the Netherlands, he returned to Germany, working in various jobs until his death from cancer in 1993.
The story of that branch of the family, however, does not end there. Horst married a divorcee in Germany in 1962 and a year later the couple had a son, who in turn married and had three children, now adults. Horst lived just long enough to see all three of these grandchildren. That couple divorced, the son remarried, and had three more children with his second wife. Helen and I met this younger family in Germany in mid-2015, following our meeting with Elke.
Two of the adult children from the first marriage now have young children of their own. These two children are Generation 10 descendants of Menachem-Mendel Badrian. They are separated in temporal distance from their ancestor by a quarter of a millennium, yet, strangely enough, their homes in the center of Germany are closer in geographic distance to what was once Oberschlesien than those of any other Badrian descendants in the world.
How Frieda and I obtained this information and put myriad pieces together is obviously a long and complicated story, and this is not the place to tell it, but suffice it to say that the hand of Gerhard Badrian was at work in ensuring Horst’s miraculous survival, more than once. A crucial piece of evidence was the Westerbork Meldezettel for June 7, 1944 (Figure 10). The German word means registration form, but in this context it was a daily attendance summary. Hans (i.e. Horst) is vermisste (missing). He is a prot. The abbreviation means Protestant i.e., Dutch Reformed Church; perhaps with false papers supplied by Gerhard. Horst’s escape the previous day–smuggled out on a truck that brought vegetables to the camp, driven by a Verzet sympathizer who took him to a safe house–was arranged by Herta Caan, an associate of Gerhard in the PBC group. She was imprisoned in the camp, and was following instructions supplied by Gerhard. We know this because Herta, in her nineties, was living in London in 2014, and the information about her role in the story was passed on to us by one of her close friends, the daughter of another member of the resistance. Not only that. Herta also provided crucial information that allowed Frieda to locate Horst’s son in Germany.
Fig. 10 Westerbork Meldezettel recording Horst’s escape from the camp
For a number of years, I taught a master’s course in statistics in my university faculty, so I have a fairly good grasp of probability theory. Despite this, I have not the slightest idea of how to calculate the probability of finding, 70 years after the event, the one living person in the world who could provide the key that would unlock the mystery of what had happened to Hermann and Frieda Badrian’s little grandson. And the process through which I found the person who knew of the existence of Herta Caan also involved another highly improbable sequence of events. I still shake my head in wonderment that any of this ever happened at all.